Police detain soccer's big two in crackdown

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2010, 12:00am


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Two deputy chairmen of the Chinese Football Association have been detained by police in the most dramatic step yet in the mainland's crackdown on soccer-related corruption.

Nan Yong, who ran the domestic soccer league and was in charge of China's national teams, and Yang Yimin were asked to attend a meeting last Friday at the Beijing headquarters of the General Administration of Sport.

When the pair arrived, police were waiting.

A special squad of officers from Shenyang, in Liaoning province, dedicated to fighting soccer gambling and organised crime, took them away, Guangzhou-based Soccer News reported.

Also detained the same night was Zhang Jianqiang, a former director of the CFA referees' committee, who was taken from outside his home in Beijing.

The Ministry of Public Security confirmed yesterday that the three were interrogated about match-fixing. Their whereabouts is unknown.

Nan was in charge of all men's national teams and domestic leagues. He was appointed to that position a year ago. He and Yang are the highest-ranking officials detained so far in the mainland's campaign against corruption in soccer, which began last year.

The ministry said the special Shenyang police group, with the support of sports authorities, was also investigating how the domestic league had been controlled through commercial bribery.

Xinhua said the action showed the authorities' determination to clean up the corruption in Chinese soccer and restore public confidence.

The campaign has already seen the arrest of about two dozen coaches, club managers and players. More than 100 officials, team managers and other insiders have been investigated in such provinces as Guangdong, Liaoning and Sichuan .

Another prominent soccer figure involved in the latest developments is Jia Xiuquan , captain of the men's national team in the 1980s and coach of the men's Olympic team in 2003 and 2004. Mainland media said they had been unable to contact Jia for nearly a week, and reports speculated that police had also taken him in for investigation sometime late last week.

The ministry, the sport administration and the CFA all refused to comment on the cases yesterday. The administration and the CFA would not even confirm that an investigation was going on.

Some CFA insiders told Soccer News that Nan might have profited commercially from his position, that Yang might have been named by a soccer team coach investigated previously, and that Zhang might have been involved in gambling on soccer.

The use of the police team from Shenyang to target CFA leaders is a departure from the authorities' usual practice when dealing with corrupt senior officials.

Generally, party members, such as Nan who are investigated for corruption or receiving bribes are first put under shuanggui, a party disciplinary procedure. Police do not usually question them directly.

The latest developments shook the foundations of soccer on the mainland.

Although it is the country's most popular sport, the national men's teams have performed abysmally in international competition - a source of public anger and embarrassment.

Liu Xiaoxin, chief editor of Soccer News, said he did not believe Nan and the others could escape the crackdown easily.

'It will be a big joke if police say later that they are fine,' he said. 'Yet, if you understand Chinese politics, you will know that it is extremely hard to question the big fish like Nan, Yang, and Zhang.'

One of three authors of a newly published book, The Inside Story of Chinese Soccer, Liu said he and his team had discovered many secrets behind the scenes but he was still shocked to hear of Nan's and Yang's detentions.

'It was beyond our expectations that officials with such high positions were being investigated, which really shows [the government's] power and determination to crack down on the corruption [in soccer],' he said.

The involvement of the state's top leaders has been a driving force in the anti-corruption campaign.

President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping called for a clean-up of mainland sports, especially soccer, late last year. It was rare for such an order to come directly from the highest level of government.

Among everyday fans, the crackdown was the hottest topic for comment on Web portal's miniblog service yesterday.

Well-known sports host Huang Jianxiang posted that it was even attracting more attention on the mainland than the World Cup finals, which begin in South Africa in June.

Reading the riot act

The police are taking no prisoners in their bid to stop soccer corruption

In Guangdong, Liaoning and Sichuan the number of officials and managers arrested has reached at least: 100